any matters in this life are “open-ended”—not everything is black or white. As evangelical Christians, we exist within a culture that embraces the “gray area,” not just in matters of morality, social action, and politics, but also matters of spirituality. Any path to God, a higher power, or self-realization will do just fine, so long as it feels right to the individual. This means that Christians who hold to the belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven are classified as backward, old-fashioned, and narrow-minded.
Secular culture is not the only voice challenging the John 14:6 proclamation of Jesus being the one way to salvation. With the release of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and other works by well-known Christian authors, the discussion is taking in our churches: Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?
Christian universalism—the idea that all people will be saved even if it’s on the other side of eternity—is nothing new. People have been disputing this matter almost as long as the Church has been around. However, Christian universalism seems to be making a new emergence within the pluralist culture that we live in—in many ways, it fits right in! On a more alarming note, this school of thought is beginning to catch on among believers to the shock of pastors, denominational leaders, and the laity.
We need to be concerned and cautious. Jesus is not merely the best way to God;He is the only way to God! The Church of God has always stood firm on this fact for good reason. As Pentecostal/Holiness believers, the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ is critical to our mission and message.
However, we need to take into consideration the legitimate questions coming from the discussion surrounding universal salvation: How big is the grace of God? Does it extend beyond our lifetime into eternity? Is salvation limited to Christians only? What about the problem of those who never hear the gospel? Isn’t God much bigger than any one particular religion? How do we communicate the gospel in our secular culture? There are a few points we should keep in mind.
The grace of God is big.
One of the points Christian universalism focuses on is the depth of God’s grace—the fact that He is all-merciful. How true! We must never forget that God’s grace covers a multitude of sins, allowing us to enter into relationship with Him. However, God’s grace is never meant to be used as a means to dismiss the consequences of wrongdoing— we all will experience death as a result of sin. Furthermore, grace is not a pass for us to take advantage of God’s kindness and not live in accordance with His ways. God’s grace should be responded to by following His Son, Jesus Christ.
We can experience salvation now.
When Jesus called each of His disciples, it necessitated an immediate response. Likewise, when Jesus meets us where we are in life and asks us to follow Him, we have the opportunity to follow Him immediately. Salvation is available to us now and we must respond to it accordingly. Throughout the history of the early church, the good news of Jesus Christ was spread with a sense of urgency because it was understood that God was calling humanity to salvation in this life so that they might spend eternity in heaven. If we try to write the reality of hell out of the equation, we might lead someone to spend eternity apart from God.
Salvation is found in Jesus Christ!
Anyone can enter into a relationship with Jesus. It is not limited to people based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors. Jesus came that none should “perish” but have “everlasting life” (John 3:16). As Pentecostal-Holiness believers, we believe that the power of sanctification subsequent to salvation sets us apart from sin and creates in us a new heart, changing our patterns of living.
God is really big!
Another point universalists make is that God is much bigger than we could ever understand. God created the universe, meaning that He existed before the infinite expanse we are floating in was even made. There are countless things about God that we probably won’t be able to fully grasp in this life. However, in His infiniteness, God desires to know us personally. He is not
a distant being that doesn’t care about His creation; rather, He is intimately connected with us.
As we dialogue with fellow believers who have a universalist mind-set, we must respond in love and with understanding. At the end of the day, our goal should not be to alienate fellow believers but emphasize the depth of God’s mercy, that salvation in Jesus Christ is available now, and the fact that our God is big. Jesus is not merely the best way to God; He is the only way to God.